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North India 2014, much dust, more heat, late rain

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The sweltering of North India, aggravated by manic urbanisation, just as manic use of personal automobiles, the steady thinning of tree canopies, and small businesses forced to buy diesel generators – in the tens of thousands, each emitting hot fumes that further trap already heated layers of sooty air – is an annual pre-monsoon epic that no-one has the energy to write.

This panel of four maps shows us where India baked during the last week of 2014 May (and now, Delhi has experienced a record its residents did not want). The high temperature belts (top left map), 40-45 Celsius, covered most of central and north-western India (Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Gangetic Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Delhi). Minimum temperatures (top right), 20-15 Celsius, are seen in two pockets – south interior Karnataka and in the North-East over Manipur and Mizoram.

These temperature maps may be read with the rainfall for the same period, 2014 May 25-31, to correlate particularly the temperature anomalies (how much higher or lower the normal maxima and minima have departed) with where it has rained. The rainfall map (lower left) shows rain having fallen over south Karnataka, but also north West Bengal and eastern Bihar, coastal Odisha and southern Haryana. These appear to relate to a group of anomalies (lower right): the first being interior Tamil Nadu, north-eastern Karnataka and adjacent Andhra Pradesh; the second being eastern Uttar Pradesh and adjacent Bihar. [You can get the four maps in this zip file.]

Read these from top left - 21, 22 and 23 June. Lower row - 24, 25 and 26 June. The green shading is the rain-bearing cloud cover. After 20 June the peninsula will have rain in most meteorological zone but North and north-west India will still await the monsoon system.

Read these from top left – 21, 22 and 23 June. Lower row – 24, 25 and 26 June. The green shading is the rain-bearing cloud cover. After 20 June the peninsula will have rain in most meteorological zone but North and north-west India will still await the monsoon system.

What these don’t show, but which the longer range forecast Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (Pune, Maharashtra) has on record, is that monsoon 2014 will not touch northern India until the fourth week of June. Rain-bearing cloud and wind systems will cover, in this forecast, peninsular India by around the 16th or 17th of June, but it will be another week before they deliver some relief to the cemented and asphalted surfaces of the National Capital Territory and its parched surroundings.

These very helpful maps are used by the Pune-based met researchers as part of their monsoon monitoring and forecasting partnership with several international climatoloigcal research institutes, chief amongst them the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the USA through its Climate Prediction Centre.

The Tropmet – as the Pune group is usually called – has bequeathed to us a definition (perhaps for this season only, subject to revision when climate change asserts itself) of monsoon rain that is in part scientific and in part geographic, which I think is a good sign (the Indian Meteorological Department will disagree, but we know better). The faster Tropmet decides to communicate in language appreciated, and understood, by Bharatiya citizens, the more said citizens will find an interest in correcting the misconceptions of scientists.

Tropmet says: “Rainfall within the summer monsoon season is mainly punctuated by the northward propagating monsoon intraseasonal oscillations (MISOs) with timescales of 30-60 days that manifests as spells of heavy rainfall and periods of quiescent rainfall, instead of a continuous deluge.” In the Konkan, we like our continuous deluge and the old-timers would have sixteen names for different sorts of deluge (and an equally rich chest of monsoon nouns for other sorts of rain).

Light fractals of urban Punjab

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In this map, created from night-time lights of cities recorded by satellites, Lahore and Delhi and the surrounding Punjab form continuous urban corridors, or agglomerations. The densely coloured nodes represent 67 cities (in 2010) with populations above the 100,000 threshold (see http://ciesin.columbia.edu/). Map: Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN)

In this map, created from night-time lights of cities recorded by satellites, Lahore and Delhi and the surrounding Punjab form continuous urban corridors, or agglomerations. The densely coloured nodes represent 67 cities (in 2010) with populations above the 100,000 threshold (see http://ciesin.columbia.edu/). Map: Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN)

About 470 kilometres along the Grand Trunk Road from Lahore (a large urban mass with an orange core in this map), first through Amritsar, then Jalandhar and Ludhiana, then past Patiala and Panipat, and on to New Delhi – an even greater orange core, engorged with its status as a national capital territory, feasting on uncountable megawatts of crackling electricity.

During the days of the undivided Punjab, both Lahore and Delhi were divisions of the province, the other three being Multan, Jalandhar (usually spelled ‘Jullundur’) and Rawalpindi (usually called ‘Pindi’, a name that eased the toils of newspaper sub-editors in the 1960s, when Pindi was Pakistan’s capital).

Urbanisation in Punjab compared between 1999 and 2010, the CIESIN map based on night-time lights recorded by satellite.

Urbanisation in Punjab compared between 1999 and 2010, the CIESIN map based on night-time lights recorded by satellite.

The burst of urban light due east of Lahore (it would be about 125 kilometres away) is the city of Faislabad. As with the chain of light that erupts into settlements along the Grand Trunk Road from Lahore to Delhi, Faislabad makes a great vibrant punctuation on the urban light map of historical Punjab, a solar flare jetting out from the cultural orb of old Lahore. Perhaps the chain marks the hasty passage of ‘halwa‘ and ‘adh ridka‘ (the Lahori ‘lassi‘) between one and the other.

South-westerly from Lahore another chain of urbanising sparklers marks the road to Multan, and the beginnings of a lattice – clearly discernible from the built-up nodes that are Ludhiana and Ambala – that connects hamlets and would-be highways into an evolving fractal shape is visible.

At times the dizzying fractal appears to be caught in swift metamorphosis, coloured an uncertain blue that Amritsar is awash in, but so are Ludhiana and Shimla (where Delhi’s acquisitive gentry spend week-ends), for here new neighbourhood wards spring up unplanned and unmarked but for the glare of new lights, so well captured in this cartographic curiosity.

India marches against Monsanto, hauls it back into court

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The anti-GM and anti-Monsanto protest in Bangalore outside the Town Hall on 2013 October 15

The anti-GM and anti-Monsanto protest in Bangalore outside the Town Hall on 2013 October 15

This is an important week for the public movement in India against genetically-modified seed and food, and against the corporate control of agriculture. Just ahead of World Food Day 2013, the Coalition for GM Free India has held public protests, marches and events in major cities – Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi, Thiruvananthapuram and Chennai.

“Today, India is also under threat from the hazardous products that Monsanto wants to profiteer from – these are products that affect the very food that we eat to survive and stay healthy and our environment. These are products that have the potential to jeopardise future generations too,” said the Coalition at the protest meetings and marches.

These actions have come when, in a very significant ruling by the High Court of Karnataka, a petition to dispose criminal prosecution of the Monsanto subsidiary in India, representatives of an agricultural university and a partner company, has been dismissed.

RG-Monsanto_BLR_protest_10Mahyco-Monsanto, the Indian seed company, the University of Agricultural Sciences Dharwad (which is in the state of Karnataka), and Monsanto collaborating partners Sathguru Consultants were accused by the National Biodiversity Authority and the Karnataka State Biodiversity Board of committing serious criminal acts of biopiracy in promoting B.t. Brinjal, India’s first food GMO.

The Bangalore-based Environment Support Group (ESG) had said to the court that the entire process by which the product had been developed violated the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, and the Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992, and “constituted an outrageous act of biopiracy of India’s endemic brinjal (eggplant) varieties”.

To substantiate this charge, the ESG produced evidence that all the endemic varieties of brinjal that had been accessed by the University of Agricultural Sciences Dharwad and Monsanto-Mahyco, with technical support from Sathguru Consultants and USAID, and the act of inserting the B.t. gene (a proprietary product of Monsanto), were undertaken without any consent of local Biodiversity Management Committees, the State Biodiversity Board and the National Biodiversity Authority.

As the Coalition for GM Free India has pointed out repeatedly, Monsanto’s misdeeds in India and its growing threat to food security and the right to food cultivation and consumption choices are considerable:
* Mahyco-Monsanto used its Bt cotton seed monopoly to set exorbitant prices. The Andhra Pradesh government had to use the MRTP (Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices) Commission, which observed that Monsanto-Mahyco was using unfair trade practices in India, while asking the company to reduce the royalty/sub-licensing fee being charged in India.
* Monsanto-Mahyco did not hesitate to sue governments in India on issues related to compensation for loss-incurring farmers or price-regulation.
* After the advent of Bt cotton, Monsanto entered into licensing agreements with most seed companies in India so that out of 22.5 million acres of GM cotton, 21 million acres is planted with its seed, Bollgard. Today it controls nearly 93% of the market share of cotton seeds in India, with little choice left to farmers.
* Monsanto is on the Board of the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, under which bio-safety regime for GM crops was sought to be weakened.
* Monsanto entered into agreements with several states (Rajasthan, Orissa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir) under which the states spend hundreds of crore rupees of public funds every year to purchase hybrid maize seeds from them. Such agreements were found to have no scientific or funding rationale to support them. Appraisals have shown these to be risky for farmers. However, the corporation has found huge, ready markets supported by taxpayers’ funds!
* Monsanto is pushing the sales of its herbicide glyphosate which is known to cause reproductive problems. Approval for its herbicide-tolerant GM crops would skyrocket the use of this hazardous chemical in our fields.

The action in court and on the streets of major cities must be recognised by the central and state governments in order to pursue the criminal prosecution against biopiracy in B.t. brinjal. This is critical, said the ESG, because it is for the “first time that India has sought to implement the provisions of the Biodiversity Act tackling biopiracy, and thus the effort constitutes a major precedent to secure India’s bio-resources, associated traditional knowledge and biodiversity for the benefit of present and future generations”.

The data vault of the 2011 Indian Census

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20140304Major update – Extensive new data tables have been made available for public use by the Census of India. These include: (1) Primary Census Abstract tables to the village and ward level, (2) consolidated top level datasheets for Population Enumeration Data, population living in villages, age data, and data on disability.

Here they are:

[Set 1] Primary Census Abstract Data (Final Population); Primary Census Abstract Data for Houseless (India & States/UTs – District Level) ; Primary Census Abstract Data for Scheduled Castes (SC) (India & States/UTs – District Level) ; Primary Census Abstract Data for Scheduled Tribes (ST) (India & States/UTs – District Level) ; Primary Census Abstract Data for Slum (India & States/UTs – Town Level) ; Primary Census Abstract Data Highlights – 2011 (India & States/UTs) ; Primary Census Abstract Data Tables (India & States/UTs – District Level) ; Primary Census Abstract Data Tables (India & States/UTs – Town/Village/Ward Level).

[Set 2] Villages By Population ; Village population Tables ; Percentage of population living in villages of various population size with reference to the total rural population: 2011 ; Percentage of villages and population by class of villages in 2001 and 2011 ; Statement showing the number of Villages of population 10,000 and above with their population: 2001-2011 ; Distribution of 10,000 villages of each class in All India and 10,000 population in each class of villages All India among the States and Union Territories.

[Set 3] Single Year Age Data – (India/States/UTs) ; Single Year Age Data for Scheduled Castes (SC) ; Single Year Age Data for Scheduled Tribes (ST) ; Five Year Age Group Data ; Five Year Age Data for Scheduled Castes (SC) ; Five Year Age Data for Scheduled Castes (ST).

[Set 4] Disabled Population by type of Disability, Age and Sex (India & States/UTs – District Level) ; Disabled Population by type of Disability, Age and Sex For Scheduled Castes (India & States/UTs – District Level) ; Disabled Population by type of Disability, Age and Sex For Scheduled Tribes (India & States/UTs – District Level).

20130903 – The Census 2011 as a data source is now two years old for the first indicators and preliminary estimates were released in 2011 June and July. Since then we have had regular releases from the world’s most detailed very large-scale enumeration of people.

The ‘primary census abstract’ is the most important record for a settlement, whether a rural hamlet or an urban town ward. This contains the population, gender ratio, literacy rate, proportion of children, the numbers of scheduled tribe and caste members, and also contains the four-fold break-up of the working population.

The Census of India has released the primary census abstract (PCA) to the district level for all states and union territories. On the website, you can get the tables for individual districts through a series of menus. Here, I have posted the xls data sheets for every state and union territory, and each sheet contains the PCA for all that state’s districts.

In alphabetical order (and with the state census code) they are: Andaman and Nicobar Islands (35), Andhra Pradesh (28), Arunachal Pradesh (12), Assam (18), Bihar (10), Chandigarh (04), Chhattisgarh (22), Dadra and Nagar Haveli (26), Daman and Diu (25), Delhi (07), Goa (30), Gujarat (24), Haryana (06), Himachal Pradesh (02), Jammu and Kashmir (01), Jharkhand (20), Karnataka (29), Kerala (32), Lakshadweep (31), Madhya Pradesh (23), Maharashtra (27), Manipur (14), Meghalaya (17), Mizoram (15), Nagaland (13), Odisha (21), Puducherry (34), Punjab (03), Rajasthan (08), Sikkim (11), Tamil Nadu (33), Tripura (16), Uttar Pradesh (09), Uttarakhand (05), West Bengal (19).

Census 2011, the first big numbers release

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Census2011_logoThe Census of India has released the first batch of the primary census abstract. This is the heart of the gigantic matrix of numbers that describes India’s population (to be correct technically, India’s population as it was in 2011 March). The PCA, as it is fondly known amongst the tribe that speak its arcane language, is the final and corrected set of numbers of the populations of India’s states, districts, blocks and villages – this corrects, if such correction was required, the data used in the Census 2011 releases between 2011 and now, which were officially called provisional results.

This release of the PCA is detailed down to district level, and that means the block- and village-level releases are to follow. This gives us the rural and urban populations, the number of children between 0 and 6 years old and what gender they are, and it gives us the number of workers and dependents. Within workers, the PCA tells us who the ‘main’ and ‘marginal’ workers are (a distinction based on how much of the year they are employed). What is of great importance to our study of food and agriculture is that the data tell us how many cultivators and how many agricultural labourers there are.

Well then, without further ado, here is where you’ll find this new forest of numbers. First, there is a very good overview provided by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India (that’s the official title of the organisation that carries out the world’s largest census operation, yes yes, there is one larger enumeration but this is the most detailed census in the world) and you can download it here (a big ppt of about 9MB). Then there is the page on which the PCAs of the states and union territories can be found, which is here.

If you’ve hurried over to that last page you will have found that the xls files that correspond to each state and union territory are coded. That is the state code, and in my work I have found it far more useful to have a set of xls files that are named with both the state (or UT) 2 or 3 character forms and their Census codes. So, here they are, in alphabetical order:

Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Lakshadweep, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Puducherry, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal. There, that’s all 35 – do let me know if any of these links are empty or pointing to the wrong file.

India in 2015 – 63 million-plus cities

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RG_new_city_marks2The 27 cities shown on this map are no different from many others like them in India today, and the selection of these 27 is based solely on a single numerical milestone which I am fairly sure few of each city’s citizens (or administrations for that matter) will have marked.

On some day during the months since March 2011, the population of each of these 27 cities has crossed 150,000 – this is the criterion. March 2011 is the month to which the Census 2011 has fixed its population count, for the country, for a state, a district, a town.

And so these 27 cities share one criterion – which they be quite unaware of – which is that when their inhabitants were enumerated for the 2011 census, their populations were under 150,000 whereas in the four years since that mark has been crossed.

[You will find more on the theme of population, the Census of India 2011 and urban and rural population growth here: ‘So very many of us’, ‘To localise and humanise India’s urban project’, ‘The slowing motion of India’s quick mobility’, ‘The urbanised middle class symphony’. Thematic and state-wise links to direct data files can be found at: ‘India’s 2011 census, a population turning point’ and ‘India’s 2011 census, the states and their prime numbers’.]

When the provisional results of the Census of India 2011 were released, through the year 2011, the number of cities with populations of a million and over was 53.

The number of cities with over a million inhabitants, from 53 in 2013 to 63 in 2015. Cities with names in red type will reach a million in 2015.

The number of cities with over a million inhabitants, from 53 in 2013 to 63 in 2015. Cities with names in red type will reach a million in 2015.

That was the tally almost two years ago. Between the 2011 census and the 2001 census the growth rate of the urban population was 31.8% which, turned into a simple annual rate for those ten years, is just under 3.2% per year.

At this rate, in mid-2013, six more cities will have joined the list of those with a population of over a million.

These six cities are: Mysore (in Karnataka, estimated population of 1,046,469), Bareilly (in Uttar Pradesh, 1,042,257), Guwahati (in Assam, 1,030,149), Tiruppur (in Tamil Nadu, 1,024,228), Sholapur (in Maharashtra, 1,011,609) and Hubli-Dharwad (in Karnataka, 1,003,886).

Within the next few months, India will have 59 cities with populations of over a million.

By mid-2015 (the final year of the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs), there will be another four cities with populations of over a million: Salem (in Tamil Nadu, estimated population of 1,036,066), Aligarh (in Uttar Pradesh, 1,025,255), Gurgaon (in Haryana, 1,016,698) and Moradabad (in Uttar Pradesh, 1,002,994).

That year, Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh), Thrissur (Kerala) and Vadodara (Gujarat) will have populations of over two million; the populations of Kanpur and Lucknow (both Uttar Pradesh) will cross three million and that of Surat (Gujarat) will cross five million. India will have 63 (ten more than in 2011) cities with populations of at least a million.

These are projections that have not taken into account the state-wise variations of rural and urban growth rates. Also not accounted for is migration, as the migration data from Census 2011 has yet to be released.

Does KFC want 13-month-old infants in India to eat its chicken?

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A schoolgirl walks under the KFC advertisement in Bengaluru (Bangalore). This hoarding is visible to all traffic on one of the city’s major roads, Richmond Road.

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in India is advertising a chicken meal that costs 35 rupees (USD 0.67, EUR 0.51). Hoardings such as this one are visible now in all the major metropolitan cities (Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Delhi) and KFC has taken outdoor advertising space along major roads in these cities.

This hoarding advertises “Real chicken” for 35 Indian rupees, “KFC wow! price menu”. In small letters on the lower bottom right of the hoarding the advertisement also says: “Products contain added monosodium glutamate. Not recommended for infants below 12 months”.

There are two culprits here at work to further the interests of the junk food/fast food industry. One is the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India which is nowhere near as vigilant as it ought to be, especially given its ‘Advisory on Misbranding/ Misleading claims’ which invokes the Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act, 2006, Rules & Regulations, 2011. This has said: “(2) The various false claims made by the Food Business Operator about food articles and consequent violation, if any, are punishable under the provisions fo FSS Act, 2006; (3) Violations related to food items, seriously jeopardize public health as well lead to unfair gains to Food Business; (4) Misleading advertisement related to food items are imputed with malafide intent on the part of person making the claim and is normally made to misguide a consumer to purchase food item without disclosing the complete details on the advertisement. Companies (Corporate bodies including firm or other association, individual) are also covered u/s 66, FSS Act, 2006.”

The objectionable disclaimer is in small letters on the lower right edge of the hoarding, unnoticeable to passing traffic.

The other culprit is KFC and its parent company, Yum! Brands, Inc. Just how important is India to Yum! Brands? Consider the statement by the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, David C Novak (available right now on the company website) in which he has mentioned India and its market:

” …we have made incredible progress in India, opening 101 new restaurants in 2011. Ten years ago, we were essentially just beginning with KFC in India, and now it’s our second leading country for new unit development. In fact, we’re so excited about our prospects in India, and its impact on the future growth of Yum!, that we’re going to break it out as a separate division for 2012 reporting directly to me. It’s encouraging to see that our new unit progress with KFC in India is very similar to what we saw in China during its first 10 years. Our India team has identified the key elements driving success in China and are adapting these strategies in India to leverage our iconic brands and build concepts with broad appeal.”

No thank you. We want 0 such restaurants per 1,000,000 people

India’s business and financial English-language dailies, since they function as mouthpieces of industry and propaganda sheets for industry and trade associations, and since they function as uncritical endorsers of the current ruling regime’s reckless gallop into ruin, have had only laudatory noises to make about the invasion under way by KFC and similar global junk food peddlers.

The Economic Times published a gushing interview with Muktesh Pant, CEO of Yum! Restaurants International, which is described as running “the international operations of US quick restaurant chains Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell restaurants”. The newspaper asked: “How is the Indian restaurant market evolving, compared to say China?” and Pant answered: “If you compare the stats of the two countries, the consumer class of 300 million in China has an access to 3,000+ KFCs, while the consumer class of 100 million in India has access to only about 140 KFC outlets. Hence, there is a huge potential for us to leverage our expertise in the untapped market. Our aim is to have 1,000 outlets in India by 2015 and China has helped us provide a blueprint for this rapid growth.”

The influence of KFC on the diet of India’s urban schoolchildren? See the schoolbuses driving past the hoarding.

The same gushing interview contained answers from Niren Chaudhary, president of Yum! Restaurants India, who was described as “reporting directly to Yum! Brands, Inc, Chairman & CEO David Novak after the world’s largest restaurant company last week made India only the third country after the US and China with a standalone reporting division”. How fabulously exciting for all the 13-month-old infants wetting their diapers in anticipation of their next KFC portion.

The question was: “Will it translate into faster expansion and more hires?” And Chaudhary’s answer: “Our goal is to double our store base to at least 1,000 stores, employing 50,000 people, in three years. The new structure is a change in reporting relationship and reflects the importance of India as a future growth opportunity.”

Now we know why the KFC advertisements say what they do (and hide much). This CEO Pant is reported to have studied at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, and if so that particular IIT – and the IITs and IIMs of Bharat – have much to answer for.

How the crop cultivation and food habits of 1.21 billion are being hijacked

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A woman sells small seasonal fruit from her basket on a bust main road in Mumbai (Bombay).

In both 2009 and well as this year, 2012, there were droughts. The impact of one drought on rural cultivating households is considerable, and we have known of the severity of these impacts ever since the chronicling of the famines of 1943-44. What happens when over a five-year period, there are two droughts? Before the end of 2012, we shall begin to know, and this will be a grim learning – drawing from the conclusions of several surveys conducted on drought and its impacts between 1970 and 2002, rural cultivating households suffer annual income losses of at times more than 60% in drought years. Can they recover enough in three years to withstand such drastic income erosion a second time in quick succession? We will learn soon enough, but the circumstances in which we learn is already being influences by major changes afoot.

Let us consider the global concern about drought and the need expressed for support to cultivating (and rural food consuming) populations experiencing drought (and food price inflation) stress. “We cannot allow these historic price hikes to turn into a lifetime of perils as families take their children out of school and eat less nutritious food to compensate for the high prices,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim in a recent statement concerning high food prices. “Countries must strengthen their targeted programmes to ease the pressure on the most vulnerable population, and implement the right policies.” The World Bank, together with other multi-lateral lending organisations and many governments worried about agrarian distress and chronic food price inflation, has spoken often about “measures and policy to protect the most vulnerable against future shocks”.

The immense sprawl of Mumbai, with over 20 million inhabitants, a food magnet that drains food producing districts up to 500 kilometres inland.

What sort of measures have been and are being discussed and implemented? They include agriculture-related investment, policy advice, fast-track financing, support for safety nets, the multi-donor food security programmes, and risk management products. The Government of India has also talked about cash transfers and increased investment in agriculture, in the same breath that it has talked about technological ‘solutions’ (the introduction of drought-resistant crop varieties, they like to call it) to surmount the yield per hectare limits currently experienced in food crop staples. How sensible or opportunistic are these measures? How true are they towards being ‘inclusive’ and ‘participatory’ (terms our government and major line ministries, including the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Rural Development, like to use)? How much are they driven by the demands of industry rather than the needs of the food insecure and price vulnerable?

Before I indicate some of the answers, it is useful to look at the conditions in the same sector in our neighbour, the People’s Republic of China.

Inside China, the country is fast approaching the limit of its own available farmland resources – the so-called ‘red line’ for food security of 120 million hectares of arable land, set by the government. China’s typical solution has been to import cheaper agriculture commodities like soybean and maize while saving its farmland for higher-value exports like fish and vegetables. But there is another force driving the rise in soybean and maize imports: the rise in meat consumption in China (a reduced example of which we are seeing in the cities and towns of India, in which the middle class diet includes a growing meat component, usually poultry). In China, meat is increasingly coming from large-scale commercial farms – not small-scale or household farmers – and is therefore dependent on animal feed rather than food waste (which has and continues to be an important portion of animal feed – think goats and chicken – for India’s small agricultural households).

From a growers’ collective in India’s Western Ghats region, a visual aid to help urban consumers identify vegetables that can be grown organically in cities.

Looking back at the pronouncements of India’s planners – whether in the Ministry of Agriculture, in the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers, the directorates in states for major crops and horticulture – and its lobbyists (mostly in the chambers of commerce and trade associations) one comparison made frequently with China is seen: that our per hectare use of fertiliser is low. What they conceal is the tremendous ecological damage that has taken place in China as a result of unregulated growth in the use of synthetic and inorganic fertilisers, which has rendered toxic and sterile vast farming tracts in China. To even consider such an approach in India ought to be anathema to our farmers – but they are being pressured and coerced by a business-centric lobbying front which is alas being supported by the central government and by the governments of major states.

“Smallholder farmers are capable of producing the food necessary to feed their country, but face increasingly difficult barriers,” concluded a recent report from the international NGO Grain, which campaigns for farmers’ rights worldwide. The report by Grain added that government decisions to rely on agricultural commodity imports serve the interests of agribusiness and its need for cheap sources of feed “but threaten the land, livelihoods and local food systems of communities”. It is this linkage that lurks behind the recent ‘reform’ (a distorted and dangerous term) that now has permitted foreign direct investment (FDI) in India’s (and Bharat’s) agriculture and food retail sector.

Such changes come against a legacy of corruption concerning access to and misuse of foodgrains that deeply affect our public distribution system and with it, equitable and affordable access for our population to nutritious food. A recent report in Bloomberg, the international news agency, exposed one such fraud, which found that Rs 2,700 crore worth of foodgrain “was looted by corrupt politicians and their criminal syndicates over the past decade” in Uttar Pradesh alone. The report quoted Naresh Saxena, a commissioner to the Supreme Court who monitors hunger-based programmes across India, as having said: “This is the most mean-spirited, ruthlessly executed corruption because it hits the poorest and most vulnerable in society. What I find even more shocking is the lack of willingness in trying to stop it.” How can they begin to stop it when, in a country whose agricultural production in absolute numbers has reached ecological limits, the food retail and processed food industry continues to demand more? And will pay more for new supplies and will gratify the looters more?

A one-kilo packet of ‘ragi’ (finger millet) from an organic farm in Andhra Pradesh state, central India, packaged and labelled in a manner that provides an alternative to the premium rice brands (mostly basmati) sold in urban centres.

Imagine the psychological effect of this sort of fraud on those who work in and for our agriculture markets. The number of regulated (secondary) agricultural markets (‘mandis’) stood at 7,157 as of March 2010 (compared to just 286 in 1950). There are also reckoned to be about 22,200 rural periodical markets, about 15% of which function under the ambit of APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committees) regulations (there are at least 27 such acts in different states). It is against this density of local collection and distribution that the impact of agri-business on inflation (both direct and indirect) may be viewed. The direct impact of agribusiness is visible in the form of food price inflation, as the Reserve Bank of India has also observed. There is demand arising from increasing population and (especially in urban and urbanising centres – see this report in a business daily, which ignores entirely the food demand footprint of urbanising India) prosperity has outstripped the growth of agricultural output, hence food inflation in India will certainly to persist and deepen (in rural areas as a result of the agri-business-led escalation of marketing channels and investment in infrastructure to move crop and food – the current government and its industry partners are doing all they can to convince middle-class urban India this is good for ‘growth’).

There is a dictatorial emphasis on food processing, on trading (consider the number of commodity exchanges today compared with ten years ago, and the much enlarged scope of their futures trading business, all of which requires access to stored raw crop that serves as the basis of such trade) and on marketing. The growing demand for protein-rich and what are called “high-value foods” (fruit, vegetables, edible oil and meat) is simultaneously raising the demand for what the food industry (processed food manufacturers, food retailers, crop terminal markets promoters, exporters) calls “high quality, safe and convenient (frozen, pre-cut, pre-cooked and ready-to-eat) foods”. Hence the view now shared by the central government, planning agencies and business and industry associations is that meeting these demands will facilitate growth (of national GDP and of the agriculture sector; see the National Summary Data Page for growth rates, however meaningless these are to the cultivating households of rural Bharat) and moderate inflation (in complete disregard of evidence from countries all over the world in which the growth of modern food retail has contributed to inflation in the prices of food staples).

The strength of the ‘growth’ totem does not diminish, and nor does the artificially inflated appeal of the ‘growth is good, more growth is better’ fiction. This is wholly and utterly misguided and mischievous and is responsible for deepening the agrarian distress in Bharat. How entrenched this fiction is can be seen in allegedly authoritative pronouncements that can be found even by the RBI, which recently said: “There is, however, near unanimity, amongst all that agriculture and agri-business growth is a necessary prerequisite for moderation of inflation, particularly food inflation, as well as for acceleration and sustenance of inclusive growth.” Growth as defined by the resource-intensive and ecologically destructive direction of the central government, Indian business and an urban middle class divorced from rural realities has directly caused this same inflation the RBI (and others) is complaining about. Yet in the policy space the contradiction is ignored – true reform that benefits Bharat rather than India is not considered.

A neighbourhood vegetable market in Bengaluru (Bangalore). How these small markets cope with the dictatorship of the food retail and food processing industry will depend on local consumers and their support.

Our central problem in the near future will continue to be the divide between Bharat and India, between food growers and the food consuming populations they support (usually unseen and unheard, often unrepresented). The English-language media that represents the interests of the well-off urban elite have become uniformly uncritical of the different aspects of agri-business and the ‘supply chain’ (another loaded term that spells danger for rural Bharat) which are being transformed (to be fair, major regional language media can be equally uncritical). Reports such as these, one from an Indian business and finance daily, Mint (which holds up GM food as the panacea for India’s food insecurity, and the other from the Wall Street Journal, which is read and quoted in business circles (which said the new ‘reforms’ are not comprehensive enough), reflect the aspirations and tendencies of urban upper middle class India and the disproportionate influence this minority enjoys over national policy, especially policy concerning agriculture and food.

These media views celebrate “rural prosperity” which is “thanks to government job schemes” (no mention of the labour distorting effect of MGNREGA (the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) that is now widespread and which has pushed up farm labour costs to benefit the manufacturers of agricultural machinery – see this report for one of the implications of this cost rise, and see this compilation [pdf] by the Indian Social Institute on NREGA-related wages news), the drive for more “domestic demand from rural areas” (to benefit the consumer goods companies and their financiers primarily), the need for “better private-sector jobs in manufacturing and services”, the obsession with how to “boost purchasing power” and the tiresome illogic of “a virtuous cycle of growth”.

Quiet numbers tell district tales – rural and urban India, part 3

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A roadside stall on the outskirts of Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, selling chewing tobacco

Having dealt with one basis for comparison, the 1911 report then provided a sociological overview of the transformation of the time: “It is true that a new type of town is springing up in the neighbourhood of important railway stations with stores and provision shops and a considerable coolie population, and that these in many cases have not yet reached the prescribed standard of population. But the total number of such places is still small, and their exclusion has had no material effect on the statistics.”

Then too, the 1911 Census thought fit to remind the administration of the variety of administrative divisions in what was British India, which included Baluchistan, Burma and the subcontinent that spanned these two provinces. “There are great local variations in density. In nearly two-thirds of the districts and states the number of persons to the square mile is less than 200, and in about a quarter it ranges from 200 to 500. The units with less than 100 persons to the square mile cover two-fifths of the total area but contain only one-eleventh of the population, while those with more than 500, though their area is only one-eleventh of the whole, contain one-third of the population.”

Skyscrapers under construction in central Mumbai (Bombay). These will contain luxury apartments, in contrast to the old humble labour accommodation provided for mill workers. These enormous towers have been erected on lands once occupied by the textile mills.

One hundred years ago, an aspect of the changing demographies of British India which exercised the census officials of the time was the ratio between females and males in cities and towns. It remains a concern, a century later, although more widespread now and not confined to urban settlements, as is explained briefly anon. “As usual in Indian towns females are in marked defect,” the 1911 report remarked on Bengal. “Their proportion is highest in the minor towns which are often merely overgrown villages; it is much smaller in the main centres of trade and industry, and smallest of all in Calcutta, where only one person in three is a female.”

Nor did Bombay prove different, for the 1911 report observed: “As in the other large cities of India females are in a great minority, there being only 530 to every thousand males. This proportion is the smallest yet recorded. In 1881 it was 661; it fell to 586 at the next census owing to the immigration of males to meet the rapidly growing demand for labour, and again rose to 617 in 1901, when plague had driven out more of the temporary settlers than of the permanent residents.”

While not as severe as the ratios of that era, the gender ratios for the rural populations of districts in 2011 will, as more data is released by the Census authorities and as the verification cycles for the smaller administration units are completed, help explain the movement of labour, the patterns of migration (with which they will be read) and no doubt support the studies on the feminisation of agriculture we are witness to in India. The 2011 data show that in 122 districts, the female to male ratio of the rural population is 1 or more (the range is 1.00 to 1.18).

Children line up in an 'anganwadi', a child care centre, in a slum in northern Mumbai. Their parents scour the nearby city refuse dumps for recyclable material, and make their living selling their finds to scrap merchants.

Of the 30 districts which have the highest female to male ratios of the rural population, there are 11 in Kerala, 7 in Uttarakhand, 4 in Orissa, 2 in Maharashtra and one each in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. Thereafter, in 112 districts the female to male ratios of the rural population are less than 0.90 (the range is 0.90 to 0.67). The district with the lowest ratio is Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh), followed by Chandigarh, South Delhi, North District (Sikkim), Dibang Valley and West Kameng (both Arunachal Pradesh RP), Kargil (Jammu and Kashmir), Daman, Nicobars and Anjaw (Arunachal Pradesh).

A crowded main lane in Dharavi, the slum in central Mumbai renowned for years as being Asia's largest. A hive of small business and scrap recycling, Dharavi is a magnet for migrants to the giant city.

Carrying with it the potential to cause a demographic imbalance whose full import, a generation from today, we can only surmise is the gender ratio of the population between 0-6 years, that is, the children of these districts. There are 34 districts in which, amongst the rural population, the numbers of children between 0 and 6 years are 500,000 and above. That all these districts are in either Bihar (15) or in Uttar Pradesh (14) or West Bengal (5) is another outcome, over the decades since the early-20th century, of the population patterns observed in the final 50 years of colonial India. The 2011 data has shown that whether in the 34 districts with 0-6 year populations of 0.5 million, or in the top 10% of all districts (640), the rural population that is between 0-6 years old is about 90% of the district’s total child population in that category.

[This is the third of a small series of postings on rural and urban India, which reproduces material from my analysis of Census 2011 data on India’s rural and urban populations, published by Infochange India. See the first in the series here, and see the second in the series here.]

Quiet numbers tell district tales – rural and urban India, part 2

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Street scene in a northern Mumbai (Bombay) suburb

The urban-centric bias of the Government of India and its principal ministries and agencies has influenced national policy for the last two Plan periods, and is a tendency that will continue for at least the duration of the 12th Plan and possibly beyond, for as long as the fixation with high annual economic growth rate continues.

Yet, if there are 53 cities whose populations are a million residents and more, and these are considered essential for the stimulation of economic efficiencies, then there are 355 districts whose rural populations are a million residents and more, whose agricultural outputs and surpluses not only provide them livelihoods, but feed the favoured residents of 53 million-plus cities and of 7,935 towns.

That is why it is worth examining, in greater detail, these rural districts and the people who inhabit them, insofar as the small data sets released by the Census of India 2011 will allow. The first indication that measures of the rural population describe an India quite different, in movement and settlement, from the force that shapes towns and cities is seen in the composition of the top of the list.

Slum settlement in north Mumbai (Bombay). There were malnutrition deaths of children in this particular slum in 2010. Behind looms the largest waste dump for this enormous city.

There are no familiar metropolitan names here, no powerful centres of commerce and influence which are so commonly found in contemporary reportage of the Indian condition. Of the 30 districts with the most rural populations, there are 8 in West Bengal, 8 in Bihar, 8 in Uttar Pradesh, 2 in Andhra Pradesh, 3 in Maharashtra and 1 in Karnataka. Of the top five West Bengal has 4 – South 24 Parganas (6.06 million), Murshidabad (5.69 million), Paschim Medinipur (5.22 million), Barddhaman (4.64 million) and Bihar’s Purba Champaran ranks fifth (4.68 million).

These districts and their rural residents describe India’s dependence on its diverse agricultural systems, its natural resources, its stock of traditional knowledge. The list of the top 10 districts with the highest rural populations is completed with Purba Medinipur (West Bengal), Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh), Madhubani (Bihar), Muzaffarpur (Bihar) and North 24 Parganas (West Bengal). The 30 districts with the largest rural populations have between 3.43 and 6.06 million residents in each.

Their historicity as the locus of population density in the subcontinent – as recorded in the early census reports from the late-19th century onwards, and described in lyrical detail in the Census of 1911 – has been overtaken by the market that the 53 million-plus cities represent, and the reckless pampering of urban growth at the expense of rural resilience. There ought not to have been a battle for financial resources between the 160.5 million residents of the million-plus cities, and the 693.9 million rural residents of the million-plus districts – but that is the bias with which the 12th Plan will approach both constituencies of Indians.

Lower income group housing in Mumbai (Bombay). Such housing is a small step up only from living in a slum as water is scarce, sanitation is poor and waste disposal is usually absent.

Odious as the urban flavour to national planning is, rural transformation and conurbation has been a feature of demographic change in India for well over a century. One hundred years ago exactly, the report of the Census of India 1911 attempted to encompass the dimensions of such change. “With the spread of railways and the general improvement in means of communication, the smaller towns are growing in importance as distributing centres, but the process is a slow one and comparatively little progress in this direction has yet been made,” said the section on ‘Area, Population and Density’ in Volume I of this landmark census. “The small market town so common in Europe and America is rarely found in India. Nor as a rule do the smaller Indian towns possess the other amenities associated with urban life in Europe, such as a better class of schools and public institutions of various kinds.”

[This is the second of a small series of postings on rural and urban India, which reproduces material from my analysis of Census 2011 data on India’s rural and urban populations, published by Infochange India. See the first in the series here.]

Written by makanaka

November 22, 2011 at 15:42